Illinois Gaming Board Narrows Field For Southland Cook County Casino License

The Illinois Gaming Board on Wednesday voted to advance the proposals of Wind Creek Hospitality and South Suburban Development as the two finalists for the Southland Cook County casino license in suburban Chicago.

The state’s gaming agency was allowed to vote forward up to three of the four groups that made presentations last week for the license. The board unanimously voted in favor of Wind Creek and South Suburban and also unanimously ended the paths for Southland Live! and Southland Ho-Chunk.

“This was not an easy task. Each applicant had positive attributes that I would believe be important and helful in making this decision,” IGB Chairman Charles Schmadeke said. “This decision is based on our statutory duties and standards set forth therein, but I also looked at the quality of the application and the extent of its development, the level of commitment of the applicant to the community, the level of the commitment to the applicant from the community, and the general support.

“The level of community support is important, not just from the elected leaders of the host community, but the community as a whole.”

The proposed Wind Creek location that straddles Homewood and East Hazel Crest is less than 10 miles from the Indiana state line. South Suburban Development has opted for Matteson as its casino location, approximately 30 miles from downtown Chicago, the Indiana state line, and Joliet — which has two of Illinois‘ 10 currently operating casinos.

The two groups have the option to make presentations to the gaming board on Oct. 28, which the public will be able to watch. Prior to the presentations made for the Southland Cook County and Waukegan casino licenses last Wednesday, IGB Administrator Marcus Fruchter said the agency remains on track to select a winner for both locations in January.

Southland Cook County was one of six areas awarded a casino license in June 2019 when Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed a gaming expansion bill that also legalized sports wagering. Also among the six locations to be granted a license is the city of Chicago, which on Oct. 29 closes its period for accepting Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for a downtown casino.

Illinois casinos generated $106.3 million in revenue in September. The three Northwest Indiana casinos — Ameristar, Horseshoe Hammond, and the recently opened Hard Rock Northern Indiana — that will directly compete with the group awarded the Southland Cook County license generated a combined $78.5 million in revenue last month. That was approximately 40% of the $194.7 million in revenue from all Indiana venues.

Scouting Wind Creek

Wind Creek’s proposed $440 million casino and hotel is projected to generate more than $155 million in gaming revenue by 2025, according to forecasts for the firm from Global Market Advisors and Innovation Group. It has committed to pre-purchasing the maximum 2,000 gaming positions available for the casino, with 1,500 to be used in the opening phase, and it would build a 252-room hotel with 53 suites in the first phase of construction.

“Wind Creek Illinois is excited to have been selected by the Illinois Gaming Board to advance to the next stage of negotiations for the south suburban casino license,” said Wind Creek CEO Jay Dorris in an emailed statement. “Wind Creek’s proposed casino and development in East Hazel Crest and Homewood is projected to draw more revenue than its competitor and would create around 800 full-time equivalent jobs in the Southland, in addition to creating a public benefit fund to provide grants for education and healthcare to benefit the region.

“This development promises to be the best in and for the entire Southland region — with job creation, economic and community investment, sustained operational excellence, and a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion in all phases of construction and operation.”

The venue would also have six restaurants and a rooftop lounge offering views of the Chicago skyline. Wind Creek has said the project would create 1,400 jobs, including 600 for construction and 800 permanent positions.

During last week’s presentations, Wind Creek Chief Operating Officer Brett Pinkston said the group would not build a temporary casino, opting instead to build a permanent one and the hotel concurrently. Targeting a start date of spring 2022, Pinkston estimated it would take 15 months for casino construction, and an additional nine months to finish the hotel.

Scouting South Suburban Development

The South Suburban Development’s proposed casino in partnership with the Oklahoma-based Choctaw Nation is a $300 million venue on the grounds of the former Lincoln Mall. The area around Lincoln Mall is already cleared out and owned by the village of Matteson, and the casino is expected to support a Market Square Crossing mixed-use concept that would include small shops, restaurants, and family entertainment spanning 35 acres.

“We’re excited,” said Village of Matteson President Sheila Chalmers-Currin. “The location is ideal to make revenue on day one, the village owns the land, and we have the commitment from the community. It’s the right time for Matteson.”

The Choctaw Nation owns 22 casinos as part of a $2 billion gaming and tourism business, with most of its business originating from Texas. It has partnered with a local construction company for the project and recruited 17 African-American investors among a minority group that would hold 17% ownership in the casino.

A temporary casino would be located in the meeting space attached to a Holiday Inn located southeast of I-57 and U.S. Route 30, and officials said it could open within six months of being awarded the license. The permanent casino would have 123,000 square feet of gaming space, and a second phase would include a 200-room hotel and 33,000-square-foot entertainment center as part of a complex that would eventually contain 1,952 gaming positions.